Space of the Week: If These Walls Could Talk

Artist Nicola L. has lived in the Chelsea Hotel for 23 years. But since 2011, when the hotel was sold and major renovations were begun, she and a group of fellow tenacious tenants have struggled to hold onto their apartments while dealing with the massive disruptions to their surroundings. I went to visit Nicola on the eve of the opening of her documentary, which is told from the point of view of the hotel itself and narrated by Sylvia Miles. The film opens May 13 with a screening at the French Institute Alliance Française’s Tinker Auditorium (22 E. 60th St., nr. Madison Ave; 212-355-6100). The hotel’s grand staircase was still intact, at least. Photo: Wendy Goodman

The doors to all the apartments have been sealed with plastic tarp, owing to dust from the construction. I finally found Nicola’s bell hidden underneath one piece. In a short release about the movie, Nicola wrote, “Our hotel has been sold, and we, permanent residents, have been sold along with it. From one day to the next, the tourists vanished. Next it was the staff, who many of us considered family. We found ourselves orphaned.” Photo: Wendy Goodman

Happily, Nicola’s apartment is unscathed, along with the beautiful wrought-iron balcony beyond the Snail table Nicola designed in 1994. Photo: Wendy Goodman

The apartment is filled with Nicola’s conceptual art and furniture. During the sea change of the sixties, when she was living in Paris and spending time in Ibiza, her world exploded upon meeting the Argentine artist Alberto Greco. He inspired her to create from a completely new center. Some of the pieces in her apartment are the result of that. Here is her Green Head sofa done in 1989. And her Egg table sculpture (2005) that sits on top of her Twelve Faces rug (1989). Photo: Wendy Goodman

Nicola first came to New York during the late sixties, a time when the Chelsea Hotel was rife with painters, rock stars, writers, and composers. “The Chelsea Hotel was always a refuge for artists,” Nicola tells me as we sit down for a chat over her Egg table. “There is so much history here! The second-class-passenger survivors of the Titanic were brought here!” Today, she says, there is “construction and destruction” taking place. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Nicola’s fireplace is adorned with her 1968 Lips lamp. Her La Femme commode, done the following year, commands attention in the foreground. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Nicola opened her first shows of functional art in 1969 in Paris at Daniel Templeton and in Brussels at Galerie Veranneman. She also began doing performance art that year at the Festival of the Isle of Wight and then in the streets of London and Paris, among other European cities. The Osiris table, shown here, was done in 2005. Photo: Wendy Goodman

At first glance, Nicola’s Iron table looks like an ironing board. A closer look and you discover the torso of a woman constructed from marble and wood held up by steel legs, which she made in 2005. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Nicola is staying positive and looking forward to her film’s opening despite what’s going on in her beloved Chelsea Hotel. In her press release describing the film, she writes, “We buildings speak, but you humans cannot hear us.” Luckily, Nicola proves that some of us can. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Space of the Week: If These Walls Could Talk